The military said on Tuesday that it conducted a surgical operation against Maute Group fighters after it received reports on the presence of Abu Sayyaf Abu Sayyaf subleader Isnilon Hapilon and some of his cohorts in Marawi City. File

AFP: Marawi clashes part of security operation, not terrorist attack
Audrey Morallo (philstar.com) - May 23, 2017 - 11:25am

MANILA, Philippines — The military said on Tuesday that firefights between security forces and militant fighters began after it received reports on the presence of an Abu Sayyaf subleader in Marawi City.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson, said in a statement that the operation of the military and the Philippine National Police began after they received reports that Abu Sayyaf subleader Isnilon Hapilon and some of his cohorts were in the city to possibly join Maute group fighters.

Reports last year said that Hapilon brought some of his Abu Sayyaf fighters from their traditional lair in Basilan to Lanao Del Sur to join the Maute Group.

Padilla emphasized that it was the AFP and the PNP that initiated the operation, contrary to reports by some groups.

READ: Troops, Maute group clash in Marawi City

“Contrary to reports and rumors you are receiving, the AFP-PNP initiated this operation in Marawi. We received reliable info on Hapilon and a number of his cohorts. Updates to follow as the operation is still ongoing. Please do not believe propaganda from other groups,” Padilla said.

Clashes between the military and Maute Group erupted in Marawi City on Tuesday afternoon after residents reported the presence of armed individuals on the city’s streets, multiple sources said.

Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson the Army's 1st Infantry Division, told the ABS-CBN News Channel that the firefight started at around 2 p.m. after the military initiated a “surgical operation” following reports on the presence of Maute Group fighters from residents.

“This is based on the report from our communities in Marawi City wherein they spotted an armed group. These communities have reported this to authorities especially the army. We verified the report and initiated a surgical operation pertaining to this armed group, the local terrorist group. The firefight started at around 2 p.m. this afternoon,” Herrera said.

The Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON) also reported the gunfight between security forces and armed men in Basak Malutlut area of Marawi City.

ANC reported that Maute fighters had already taken over the Amai Pakpak Hospital in the city and the employees of PhilHealth were ordered out by the group’s members. It is not yet known what the group’s fighters want to do with the Philhealth employees.

The roads leading to Marawi City had already been blocked by both Maute fighters and the military, according to ANC and by a reporter for The STAR trying to enter the city.

MSU faculty: School has advised students, faculty to go home

PECOJON reported that residents in the villages where the clashes were happening fled for safety. It added that people in nearby areas were left fearful for their lives.

Louise Omelio, a fellow of PECOJON and faculty member of the Mindanao State University, said that gunshots and explosions were heard at 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon, and that these had not let up.

She said that the university administration had advised faculty members to cancel their school activities and to return to their boarding houses and dormitories for fear that the violence would spill into the campus.

“The gunfire seemed very near. We no longer have classes but some still had thesis defense that we were asked to finish fast,” she said.

Omelio also reported having seen soldiers on trucks roving around the campus early Monday afternoon.

MSU is an un-gated community whose 45,000 students regularly mingle with people who have built their houses on the campus’ grounds, she said.

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